China Sends Top Diplomat to Vietnam Amid Oil Rig Spat

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A Chinese coast guard ship (back) sails next to a Vietnamese coast guard vessel in disputed waters in the South China Sea, May 14, 2014.
A Chinese coast guard ship (back) sails next to a Vietnamese coast guard vessel in disputed waters in the South China Sea, May 14, 2014.

China’s top diplomat traveled to Vietnam Tuesday for talks aimed at resolving a dispute over Beijing’s deployment of an oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea, with experts predicting the two sides to hash out several key issues.

The arrival in Hanoi of Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi, who outranks the foreign minister, represents the highest level bilateral contact since a Chinese state-run oil company deployed the rig to Vietnam’s coast on May 2, sparking tensions.

Yang will attend the annual meeting of the China-Vietnam Steering Committee for Bilateral Cooperation with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh on Wednesday, according to a statement by China’s Foreign Ministry.

He is also expected to meet with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Nguyen Phu Trong, the general secretary of the ruling Communist Party in Hanoi.

“We hope that Vietnam can bear in mind the big picture, work with China towards the same goal and properly deal with the current situation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chinying told a regular press briefing Tuesday.

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry has said that the two sides will specifically discuss the oil rig.

Vietnam and China blame one another for repeated collisions in the oil rig area between ships from both countries, with Vietnam earlier this month releasing dramatic video footage showing a large Chinese ship chasing and ramming one of its fishing boats and causing it to sink.

Dinh Hoang Thang, Vietnam’s former ambassador to the Netherlands, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the high level meeting was sure to address a number of key issues surrounding the sea dispute.

“We all know that Yang Jiechi and Pham Binh Minh have held very tense talks over the phone before,” he said.

“If each side tries to defend their own opinions, the situation can only get worse … [Yang] holds a higher position than the [Chinese] foreign minister, so this time the dialogue is likely to address many important issues.”

Meeting goals

Dinh Kim Phuc, a Vietnamese expert on the South China Sea, said the meeting of the Steering Committee for Bilateral Cooperation is simply “an excuse” to bring the two sides together to “solve the problem of the oil rig.”

“This is once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Vietnam to fight China,” he said.

“But if this visit … [sees] Vietnam continue to compromise with China, then I think the oil rig will not be removed, or it will simply be replaced and we will never solve the problem—meaning that Vietnam will lose the South China Sea.”

Phuc said that if Hanoi lets the issue drag on, China would be given “the green light to undermine Vietnamese sovereignty” which would possibly lead to Vietnam’s loss of its claim on the disputed and resource-rich Spratly island chain.

Yun Sun, an expert with the Washington-based Stimson Center, told RFA that China likely aims to discuss ways of decreasing tensions in the region and how the two sides might avoid confrontations in the future.

“China does try to at least present an image of a China willing to talk and a China willing to negotiate, but I doubt that actually indicates any willingness for China to make a concession or compromise on the issues of the territorial dispute,” she said.

“Yang’s visit is aimed at having some dialogue and trying to find ways to dilute and to reduce the tension, and see if there is any possibility of having a meaningful dialogue about how to move forward.”

Open letter

Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, Vietnam’s former ambassador to China, General Nguyen Trong Vinh, published an open letter addressed to General Secretary Trong calling on the Communist Party to stand up for the country’s sovereignty.

“Vietnam truly believes that the two communist parties ‘have the same ideology’, so it feels very close to China and would not want to do anything to disappoint the country,” he said.

“I do not oppose maintaining friendly relations between the citizens of both nations. However, I do oppose the leadership in power of China constantly nurturing a state of obtaining what it wants through the subjugation of Vietnam.”

Vinh said that public opinion in Vietnam “has it that the [party] will not resist China’s invasion.”

He decried what he called China’s aggression towards Vietnam’s ships in the South China Sea and called on the party to join the Vietnamese people to “drastically fight” Beijing’s territorial claims politically, diplomatically and legally.

“Vietnam absolutely cannot miss this chance. If Vietnam wavers and shies away from confrontation, then the day our country becomes a part of China will not be far off,” he said.

Increased tensions

The controversial oil rig is deployed between the Paracel islands—which are occupied by China and claimed by Hanoi—and the Vietnamese coast.

The rig’s deployment set off violent anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam last month, leaving at least four people dead and resulting in the destruction of factories believed to be operated by Chinese companies, though many were Taiwanese-owned.

Prime Minister Dung last month threatened to take legal action against China for the rig deployment.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting rival claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.

Reported by An Nguyen and Serena Doan for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Comments (9)

Anonymous Reader

Just the past centuries, Smart Vietnam has gained so much land ( stole from others by all means ); The neighboring counties around Vietnam are loosing land,but Vietnam is gaining land...Tricky Vietnam has used all kind of dirty works to have border redrawn for its gain .The world is being blinded by smart Vietnam. Former Soviet Unions and China were used against America by Vietnam, now Vietnam is using America and its allies against China. America ,China and Russia could have had better relation without Vietnam involvement .This treacherous Vietnam could be the cause for another WW !

Jun 19, 2014 11:36 AM

Viet Patriot

The most pressing concern now is China's illegal land reclamation work at some Spratly reefs (Johnson South Reef) as first step in the establishment of ADIZ for the South China Sea. Together with the sightings of three Jin class type 091 nuclear subs at Hainan submarine base, each sub being armed with 16 JL-2 SLBMs (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles) and the report in the Diplomat that China has secretly used the SC Sea as testing ground for nuclear subs, it makes people think China is aiming to seize the whole SC Sea as hiding place for their nuclear strike force targeting America just like Russia uses the Barents Sea to park their nuclear subs.

Jun 19, 2014 06:26 AM

Viet Patriot

Yang Jiechi has said repeatedly "China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea, which have been an inherent part of Chinese territory since ancient times." What nonsense! In ancient times, Hainan island belonged to Vietnam as were Yunnan and Guangzhou, South VN was part of Khmer Empire, the US did not exist! He got to talk about the present day instead of displaying arrogance. He's simply riding on the coattail of the military seemingly invicible for the moment. National borders are usually redrawn after a war and if China lost it will be disassembled into small fiefdoms, undoing the work of Qin Shihuang. Tibet, Xinjiang will be free.

Jun 19, 2014 05:42 AM

Anonymous Reader

@Viet Patriot - Sadly, I don't think China cares about Vietnamese threats to take legal action against it. In reality, that isn't going to accomplish anything and China won't submit to a ruling in the dispute.

Jun 18, 2014 05:27 PM

Viet Patriot

Yang Jiechi wants to soothe Vietnam's feelings to avoid the embarassment of being dragged to the International Court of Justice without any interest of showing compromise or any intention of withdrawing the rig. Indeed china is on the verge of deploying a second rig of similar size, the Haiyan 982, and two more are commissioned for 2016, the 943 and 944. The rigs are built using US technology, presumably from the acquisition of Nexen from Canada. Vietnam needs to remind China that according to the 1951 San Francisco Treaty where 46 out of 51 countries voted overwhelming in favour of VN as legal custodian of the Paracels and Spratly.

Jun 18, 2014 03:39 PM

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